Behind the Scenes at Calgary Opera with Stage Manager Shelby-Jai Flick

A look at what it takes to work on a large-scale operatic production at a large-scale venue like the Jubilee Auditorium.

Photo by Jared Sych.

Under the light of a desk lamp, pencil in hand, stage manager Shelby-Jai Flick follows the dress rehearsal notes for Calgary Opera’s rendition of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth. She keeps everything in a big binder that, to her, is holier than the Good Book itself. Her adjustable headset allows her to communicate with the rest of the crew at all times, but she leaves her right ear open, anticipating the expected and unexpected.

Flick’s passion for stage management started back when she was taking a pre-master’s seminar course at Western University in Ontario. As part of the program, actors and directors from the Stratford Shakespeare Festival were invited in to speak with the class. One of these speakers was veteran stage manager Bona Duncan. Flick approached Duncan afterward to see if they could continue the conversation and received an invitation to shadow Duncan and her team. “I stopped pursuing my master’s full stop and was like: this is it, I found my thing. I found the thing that made my brain click together,” Flick says.

Photo by Jared Sych.
Photo by Jared Sych.
Photo by Jared Sych.

Managing a large-scale operatic production like Macbeth at a large-scale venue like the Jubilee Auditorium is an especially difficult undertaking, with multiple voices from the cast and crew, technical considerations and constant changes. But Flick has her own ways of streamlining the chaos. She jokingly talks about how she lives in 15-second increments: timing every 15 seconds helps her know when a specific queue will land, plan quick changes with the wardrobe department, and prepare her standbys so that the show can run smoothly.

On top of timing, Flick colour-codes each department of cues, with the entirety of the show marked in her binder — what she calls her “score.” For Macbeth, the fly cues are orange, deck cues pink, lighting cues or “electrics” blue, video cues are green, and sound cues are purple. “If I have to [leave] and somebody else has to call this show, I need to make it easy for them to step in and call this show from my score,” she says.

Looking back on her career in the arts, Flick says she doesn’t regret switching paths, feeling like this was always meant for her. With Macbeth in the books (or, in her case, in the binders), she’s ready for her next show.

Photo by Jared Sych.
Photo by Jared Sych.

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This article appears in the September 2023 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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